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A Very Good, Very 'Bad' Ending
September 30, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 8 comments
 

[Editor's Note: This story reveals details of Sunday's Sept. 30 episode of Breaking Bad, "Felina."]


If we knew where Breaking Bad was really going, of course... we didn't.

We were told that directly. In this year's Episode 5, Rabid Dog, after Jesse was taken into custody by Hank and Gomez,  and they were confident  they could get evidence and apprehend Walt in fairly short order.

Jesse, emotional and outraged, corrected them:

"Look... look, you two guys are just... guys, okay? Mr. White... he's the devil. He is smarter than you, he is luckier than you. Whatever you think is supposed to happen... I'm telling you, the exact reverse opposite of that is gonna happen, okay?"

All we needed to do was substitute "Mr. Gilligan" for "Mr. White" in that warning, and we would have known there was no way to know where the creator of Breaking Bad was going.

All of the predictions this week pretty much missed Walt figuring out a way to get his money to his kids after all, through a crafty ruse that would funnel it, via a charitable donation, through his former business partners Elliott and Gretchen Schwartz. He also crept up on them, and Lydia, in sort of an hour-long Where's Walt-do. Heisenberg/Lambert was, uncannily, everywhere.

A few of us did predict that Walt would lace Lydia’s tea with ricin. When the camera focused on her shaking the contents of that sugar packet into her cup at the diner, it was pretty well telegraphed.

But since Gilligan promised his audience that he would deliver the most satisfying ending he could craft, we got an inventive, ingenious, wipe-out  scene of Jack Welker and his gang-- via the M60 machine gun that was alluded to in flash-forwarded scenes twice this season. The five years of referencing Scarface was appropriate, except they never saw Walt's little friend coming. It was all set up by remote control, courtesy of the mad-genius Heisenberg.

We also got a really satisfying farewell to Todd Alquist, courtesy of Jesse's brutal prison-style strangulation with his handcuffs chain. Farewell, Opie of Meth-berry.

We even got a final comic-relief appearance from Badger and Skinny Pete as Walt's dim-witted faux hit men.

Maybe most satisfying, though, was Walt's final confession to Skyler that, indeed, he "broke bad" not strictly for his family's welfare. He finally admitted what the audience had begun to understand a while ago. "I did it for me,” he told Skyler, haltingly but surely. “I liked it. I was good at it. And... I was really... I was alive."

Driven in his final act either by that, or by compassion, Walt engineered Jesse's escape from Welker's gangland compound.

In what may one of the finest hours of television ever, we got Walt's tragic truth all too clearly: his intellect and his love for his family weren't enough in the face of his terminal diagnosis. It was the stroking of his newfound ego as a criminal success that drove him all along.

It wasn’t just cancer that was consuming him. It was his rage against the life that he felt had short-changed him, a rage that grew like the cancer itself, eating him. He was not able to live, as we all must, with regret.

Despite all that, the one, must-see water-cooler show we had in 2013 will, in all likelihood, not even clock half the Nielsen ratings for the finale of Alf in 1990. Breaking Bad, in the history of TV, may go down as the greatest show watched by the fewest people.

Breaking Bad established more than a few milestones. It clearly set the bar for series to come in terms of construction, respect for its audience, and quality of art direction.

It also perhaps set the bar for all anti-heroes to come. Walter White began as a Casper Milquetoast type, an easily identifiable Everyman who eventually evolved into one of the signature TV villains of all time.

Gilligan also showed what long-form serial television can accomplish. There was virtually no filler in the 62 episodes. It seemed to hurtle relentlessly through its compelling storyline. When he and AMC committed to concluding the series after its natural arc of five seasons, they went counter to the usual, moldy Hollywood instinct: wring every possible last cent out of a popular product, and churn out as many seasons as the rubes will watch.

For viewers who regularly see popular shows hang around too long and inevitably jump that equally inevitable shark, the Breaking Bad model was a refreshing change. Breaking Bad ended before it began Breaking Bad. It was artwork with integrity first, and a cash cow second.

Bad also served up its moral caution, wrapped inside some of the grimmest criminal content possible.

While ugly and disturbing, the violence in Breaking Bad always seemed essential, and never seemed to approach the torture porn status of American Horror Story, or its period-piece cousin, Boardwalk Empire

The mayhem unleashed by frightening characters like Tuco Salamanca, Jack Welker and Todd weren't there only to provide thrills. They also clearly represented the consequences of Walt forsaking his own morality, when he walked into a world that had absolutely no societal boundaries. Even as Walt envisioned himself as the thinking man's outlaw, not even he could foresee every chess move ahead. And once he decided to "face off" with Gus Fring, Walt's Shakespearean hubris was in full flower.

In Sunday's finale, as we got the slow, receding wide image of Walt, shot and dying in Welker's desert meth lab, (top photo), Gilligan treated us to one more light-hearted music reference layered over a tragic scene -- one that would leave us both smiling and sorrowful, as he had done last summer with Tommy James' melancholic "Crystal Blue Persuasion."

This time, it was Badfinger's Seventies hit "Baby Blue," with the lyrics beginning, "Guess I got what I deserved..."

The bittersweet regret of both songs reminded me that I have never been so sad to see a show depart.

Just like Hank and Gomez  – we should have listened to Jesse. We thought we knew what was coming.

But we didn't. Stunningly. Beautifully.
 
 
 
 
 
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8 Comments
 
 
kdbp1213
overall, a nice ending; unlike sopranos or lost. (seinfeld? still 'on the fence.') watched felina/finale live sep 29's evening while dvr-ing it. watched it sep 30's evening via dvr. still have it on playlist. hesitant to delete it. probably watch it a 3rd time. maybe more??

new hampshire's license plate logo 'live free or die' on the stolen volvo fit the finale, too, i noticed upon my second viewing.

badfinger's 'baby blue' in my head ever since sep 29's evening. an appropriate song. where does gilligan come up with an appropriate song for the appropriate moment????

glad i followed breaking bad..............................
Oct 1, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
Many friends 1) watched it again last night, 2) are playing the song today, and 3) wondering, what the hell are we supposed to watch next? –EG
Oct 1, 2013
 
 
 
JM
Somehow the happy ending for Walt didn't seem to be the cosmic justice that I had come to expect from the series. Everything seemed to neat, with no real twists. It was almost the ending that would have been written if Walt were the writer.

But they I read Emily Nussbaum's piece, and I think she nailed it. The whole episode had the dreamlike quality, where Walt almost seems to move around like a ghost. Perhaps this finale really was Walt's final dream fantasy. It would have been foreshadowed by Jesse's dream sequence in the beginning of the episode.

It would also be a clever way for the writers to satisfy both the pro- and anti-Walt viewere.
Sep 30, 2013   |  Reply
 
JM
Let me put it this way - I don't think Gillian or the writers will ever come out and says "it was a dream sequence." But I think the dreamlike quality of the episode is quite intentional on the part of the writers, and they will leave things somewhat ambiguous. And don't forget - there is supposed to be an alternate ending coming with the DVD box set.
Oct 2, 2013
 
 
EG
The ghost analogy has legs -- although I prefer to view Walt's creepy omnipresence in terms of a friend's observation: that Walt had returned to, and used, his former, loathsome meek anonymity from Season 1 as another weapon in his arsenal in his final game plan. That Gilligan and company would have ended the series on an intentional sucker-punch dream-sequence would have ignited a faithful audience who savored BB for its plausible Everyman environment... i.e., a pizza thrown in anger that landed on a garage roof. The outrage would have gone on for decades. –EG
Oct 1, 2013
 
 
 
Mike F
The scene between Skylar and Walt in the darkened kitchen where Walt finally declares that "I did it for me" along with the final scene in which Walt returns to the meth lab and is lovingly caressing the various lab fixtures were just freakin' astounding. Now THAT'S the way to end a series with style, wit and intelligence!
Sep 30, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
"The special love I had for you... my baby blue..." –EG
Sep 30, 2013
 
 
 
EG
BTW - I am listening to Badfinger's "Baby Blue" and it now has -- and forever will -- have a new meaning. Such an amazing choice to finish the series and capsulize Walt's misguided love for his chemical mistress.
Sep 30, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Paul Schatz
One last kiss and Felina goodbye.
Sep 30, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
Dennis Robles
Nicely written Eric, also noted was Marty Robbins tune El Paso, and great musical choices that are congruent in some way to what is happening or what could happen. As part of that El Paso lyric goes:
Maybe tomorrow
A bullet may find me.
Tonight nothing's worse than this
Pain in my heart.
Sep 30, 2013   |  Reply
 
darrendelamancha
Someone pointed out the name of that episode after To'Hajiillee and I listed to the song. The entirety of the final episodes follow the plot arc of that song.
Sep 30, 2013
 
 
 
Mary
I too really enjoyed the episode, although I found that there were a couple of things that I had a bit of a tricky time with suspension of disbelief- the robot trunk gun, while cool, was a little hard to believe that he could build. How was he able to walk into a store, gather all those things, wait in line, pay and everything without having the cops catch him? I realize that he's a science genius, but it a seems a stretch that a chemist could so quickly and easily build a robot.
I think the ending for the most part was satisfying- I'm so relieved Jesse was able to finally be truly free. I actually cheered "yes!" when Jesse starts to strangle Creepy McDeadEyes, a.k.a. Todd. I was also thrilled to see Walt poison Lydia, who I deeply disliked. And I agree with Jan that the production quality as always was superb. Indeed what a great show, what a great ending, even with it's small flaws.
Sep 30, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
I think "Creepy McDeadeyes" has just won for Best Todd Euphemism! Yes, little plot contrivances everywhere, (how would that machine gun stay put with all that recoil??) But even with super magnets and and exploding nuggets ("this is not meth") the show always seemed more or less plausible... or at least it was crafted to feel so. And that's a credit to its authors. Not easily done. –EG
Sep 30, 2013
 
 
 
jan
It was a terrific ending. Although I thought Walt should die, I actually felt some sympathy for him at the end. It really was bittersweet. One thing that struck me was how, even at the end and knowing it was the end, the pace of filming never changed. There were long, slow shots; it took its time and never went into overdrive or felt rushed. And the cinematography was, as usual, gorgeous. I was with the show from the beginning, and it was one of the most beautiful I've ever seen as well as one of the most tension causing and violent. It always kept my interest, and I'm sad to see it go. But it went out in style, and, as you said, on its own terms. What a great show.
Sep 30, 2013   |  Reply
 
EG
So much to think about, so much to take away... what about Walt hiding in the snow-covered car at the opening? Entombed in ice -- crystals. And the reveal of Walt standing in Skylar's kitchen? Brilliantly done.
Sep 30, 2013
 
 
 
 
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